Germans warned of Chinese social-media hacks
The fake profiles are an attempt to trick people into “connecting” with them in order to extract information on people’s habits, hobbies and political interests, according to the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV).
The agency said fake social network profiles were being used by Chinese intelligence, including academics and consultants claiming to belong to established and plausible-sounding organisations, think-tanks and universities.
BfV took the unusual step this weekend of publicly outing fake profiles to urge Germans to exercise increased social-media caution.
Some profiles show pictures of attractive young people who claim to be headhunters or project managers.
One profile picture allegedly came from an online fashion catalogue. The names mentioned by the BfV include “Lily Wu” and “Alex Li” from academic think-tank the Centre for Sino-Europe Development Studies, “Laeticia Chen” from the China Centre of International Politics and Economy and “Eva Han” from the China University of Political Science and Law.
The fake profiles also falsely claimed to have jobs at RiseHR, a Dutch human resources firm.
The BfV estimated that at least 10,000 German citizens had been contacted, adding that the actual number was probably far higher.
The reach of fraudulent profiles extends beyond German borders and several fake profiles were connected to senior diplomats and politicians in other European countries.
Earlier this year it was revealed that Chinese-based hackers had targeted UK firms to steal sensitive data, including personal information and intellectual property.
“Chinese intelligence services are using new strategies of attack in the digital space. Social networks, especially LinkedIn, are being used in an ambitious manner to gather information and for recruitment,” said BfV president Hans-Georg Maassen. “We are dealing with a broad attempt to infiltrate parliaments, ministries and administrations.”
Th nine-month-long survey of social networks said: “Establishing contact through social media has for some time been on the agenda of foreign intelligence services … Information about habits, hobbies and even political interests can be generated with only a few clicks,” the BfV said. “Chinese intelligence agencies in particular are active on networks like LinkedIn.
“Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way,” the agency added.
Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz headquarters. Picture credit: Wikimedia